Fables of Modernity: Literature and Culture in the English Eighteenth Century

Fables of Modernity: Literature and Culture in the English Eighteenth Century

Fables of Modernity: Literature and Culture in the English Eighteenth Century

Fables of Modernity: Literature and Culture in the English Eighteenth Century

Synopsis

Fables of Modernity expands the territory for cultural and literary criticism by introducing the concept of the cultural fable. Laura Brown shows how cultural fables arise from material practices in eighteenth-century England. These fables, the author says, reveal the eighteenth-century origins of modernity and its connection with two related paradigms of difference-the woman and the "native" or non-European. The collective narratives that Brown finds in the print culture of the period engage such prominent phenomena as the city sewer, trade and shipping, the stock market, the commercial printing industry, the "native" visitor to London, and the household pet. In connecting imagination and history through the category of the cultural fable, Brown illuminates the nature of modern experience in the growing metropolitan centers, the national consequences of global expansion, the volatility of credit, the transforming effects of capital, and the domestic consequences of colonialism and slavery.

Excerpt

This book originated in a discussion of Jonathan Swift's poem A Description of a City Shower in a graduate seminar on “Literary Anti- Feminism” at Cornell University in the spring of 1997. My contribution to that discussion was a failure; I was unable to persuade the group and even to explain to myself my conviction that the poem contained an extended reflection both on the nature of modern experience and on the female body. I discovered during that class that the compressed story that I saw in the City Shower required a different sort of explication and a different frame of reference than my students and I were able to define. The result was the idea of the cultural fable, which Swift's poem generated and which developed a momentum of its own, gathering strength as it moved in my imagination through the print culture of the period. I am grateful to my students for providing me with this occasion, and innumerable others, to think again about the literary culture of the eighteenth century.

I have received particular advice and help from friends, colleagues, and assistants. I would like to thank Srinivas Aravamudan, Martin Bernal, Fredric Bogel, Kellie Dawson, Michelle Elleray, Jody Greene, Anne Lyden, Sarah McKibben, Felicity Nussbaum, Adela Pinch, Hunter Rawlings, Shirley Samuels, Harry Shaw, Chi-ming Yang, and the Fellows of the Society for the Humanities at Cornell 1999/2000, especially Eric Cheyfitz, Frederick Neuhouser, and Priscilla Wald, for their involvement with various parts of this book. I am especially grateful to my research assistants, Zahid Chaudhary, Sarah Heidt, and Jennifer Hill, for their initiative in pursuing my needs; to Joe Pappa for calling my attention to the sculpture by Emmanuel Frémiet that appears as the frontispiece; to Katherine Reagan, Curator of Rare Books, Cornell University Library, for assisting me . . .

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